Motorcycle helmet repeal stalls

Lawmakers rejected a cloture motion Jan. 10 during first-round debate on a bill that would repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement. A cloture motion is an attempt to cease debate and immediately vote on a bill.

Current state law requires motorcycle and moped riders to wear a protective helmet. LB368, introduced last session by Kearney Sen. John Lowe, instead would give riders 21 and older the option to wear no helmet but would require that eye protection be used. The bill also would prohibit children younger than six years of age from riding a motorcycle or moped.

Lowe said 31 states already have repealed laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a protective helmet.

“It all starts with the freedom for adults to make their own choices and to decide what kind of risks they’re willing to accept for themselves,” he said.

Crete Sen. Laura Ebke also spoke in favor of the measure, saying the Legislature should not assume it always knows what is best for people.

“We have to start treating people like adults and like they’re smart enough to make decisions for themselves,” Ebke said. “You have the liberty to make mistakes and to try and make good decisions.”

Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams disagreed with that assessment, saying legislators are elected to make public policy that is best for all Nebraskans. Ultimately the social costs of traumatic motorcycle injuries outweighs the potential benefits that would be enjoyed by motorcyclists, he said.

“It is our job as senators to look at the information, pay attention and at the end of the day, do what we believe is in the best interest of the society we live in,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to make public policy for the 1.9 million [people] in the state, not just those who choose to ride motorcycles.”

Any potential strain on state resources in the case of a traumatic motorcycle accident is a reasonable social cost to preserve citizens’ rights, said Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.

“We have social costs for a lot of things in our state and communities,” Hughes said. “If we want to avoid the social costs of things that harm us, we should probably also ban alcohol and tobacco.”

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha filed several amendments in an attempt to delay debate on LB368. He said an American Journal of Surgery study found that motorcyclists not wearing a helmet were more likely to die at the scene of an accident, spend more time in the intensive care unit and pay higher medical costs.

Requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet to prevent significant injuries is a small price to pay, Hilkemann said.

“I have a motorcycle license and I loved the thrill of riding [my motorcycle] when I had one,” he said. “Wearing a helmet is one of the responsibilities we take when we own a motorcycle in the state of Nebraska.”

After extended debate this week, Lowe offered a motion to invoke cloture on Jan. 10 and vote on the measure. The motion failed on a vote of 30-15. Thirty-three votes were needed.

A failed cloture motion results in debate on a proposal ceasing for the day. LB368 is unlikely to be placed on the agenda again this session.

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